It was three years ago that Sushil Sharma, a 26-year-old IIT Kharagpur student, decided to visit a college counsellor for depression. He had discovered he was homosexual at the age of 11 and told his parents when he turned 19.
The depression seeped in much later, when his family pressured him to marry a girl. “Instead of treating depression, the counsellor told me to undergo electrocution therapy to cure homosexuality. I was shocked,” Sushil says.
He is among a pool of homosexuals and transgenders who are coming out of the closet only to be forced to visit psychiatrists and counselors by their family members.
Realising the necessity for sensitisation of both the medical fraternity and the community, city-based Humsafar Trust is now holding awareness sessions. Outside Mumbai, community outreach has been held in Pune and Delhi so far.
In 2014, the Indian Psychiatric Society came out with a circular that said homosexuality is not a mental illness.
“But very few know about it. There are social and religious implications,” said Sandeep Mane from Humsafar Trust, adding that there is no standard operating protocol to guide parents or homosexuals when they approach counsellors for advice. Most seek “treatment” for homosexuality.
Sushil’s father is a Rajasthan-based doctor. “But this was an alien concept to him. If parents and their confused children, who are just discovering they are homosexual, are suggested to undergo shock therapy, imagine what impact it will have on that teenager,” Sushil adds.
The Indian Psychiatric Society’s statement reads: “Based on existing scientific evidence and good practice guidelines from the field of psychiatry, Indian Psychiatric Society would like to state that there is no evidence to substantiate the belief that homosexuality is a mental illness or a disease”.
Professor S Parasuraman, director of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said that for homosexuality or transgenders to be accepted, the central law needs to change. “Tamil Nadu has legalised several rights for the third gender. We also need more doctors to be trained about this issue,” he said
Under Mental Health Care Act, 2017, a mental illness can only be determined by International Classification of Diseases, which declassifies homosexuality as a disorder. The Act also restricts use of electro-convulsive therapy for minors, though it does not eliminate its use.
According to Dr Sagar Mundada, working with the psychiatry department of KEM hospital, most homosexual patients who visit the hospital seek treatment or counselling to cope with society, while their parents look for treatment options. “Shock therapy may be given for depression that manifests due to homosexuality but not to cure it,” Mundada said.
Dr Nilen Shah, head of psychiatry department at Sion hospital, said: “We also get patients who are ego-dystonic homosexuals — they are homosexuals but do not want to be. In such cases, they are counseled to be bisexual.”
Nilofer Khan (32) was in college when she told her Ghatkopar-based family that she was transgender.
“I was given five sessions of shock therapy by a psychiatrist on the advice of my family,” she said. When that did not cure her, her parents took her to several doctors to seek treatment. “Five years ago, I underwent hormone therapy to convert into a female,” she said, adding that it was a Malad-based doctor who finally suggested conversion therapy to help her.
Koninika Roy, advocacy manager for Humsafar, said that efforts are required to sensitise such families to first accept homosexuality. “The Mental Health Care Act addresses several of these issues faced by the LGBTQ community,” Roy said.